Qin Shi Huang Facts: 10 Things to Know about the First Emperor of China

Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC), also known as Ying Zheng or Shi Huangdi, is the first emperor of China after unifying the vassal states. Throughout his legendary lifetime, Qin Shi Huang had accomplished many groundbreaking reforms and ordered the construction of some famous structures including the Great Wall and Lingqu Canal. Even after he died, his mausoleum housing the Terracotta Army once again drew the attention of the world 2,200 years later. How amazing it is! Want to know more about him? Here are 10 Qin Shi Huang facts you may want to know.
 

1. Qin Shi Huang unified China for the first time and became the first emperor of China.

This is definitely one of the best-known Shi Huangdi facts. Before him, there were several vassal states in China. The rulers were not emperors, but kings of states or leaders of tribes. Following the prime minister Li Si’s strategy, Qin Shi Huang conquered the other six states, namely, Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi successively during the 10 years from 230 to 221 BC. This marked the end of the chaos which had lasted for over 500 years. Then Qin Shi Huang proclaimed himself an unprecedentedly great ruler in China and no former counterparts could parallel with him. Therefore, he decided to create a new term to address him. “Huangdi” was then introduced to refer to emperors in particular. As mentioned above, Qin Shi Huang is also called Shi Huangdi. In fact, Shi Huangdi literally means the first emperor.
 

2. Qin Shi Huang standardized the law, measurement units, currency, characters, and axle length.

Among all Qin Shi Huang facts, this one is the most significant for it has laid a firm foundation for the cultural inheritance of China. After Qin Shi Huang unified the whole country, he abolished the old system and established a highly centralized empire. As the country was split up before, the culture and system differed widely in different states. To speed up the national integration and make people’s life more convenient, Qin Shi Huang implemented a series of reforms. He launched a new imperial currency system and established a set of united units for weights and measures. In addition, he standardized the code of law and written characters. He even asked the wagon axle length to be made the same, so that the wagons could all fit the ruts on the roads all over the country.
 

3. Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of the Great Wall in the north border.

After Qin Shi Huang unified the country, the Huns in the north border with extremely high combat effectiveness still posed a great threat to the national security of Qin Empire. Therefore, Emperor Qin Shi Huang made his mind to build the Great Wall in the north border to defend against the Huns. He connected and repaired the separate Great Walls built by the former states before, forming a long connective defensive wall. According to historical records, Qin Shi Huang recruited nearly one million laborers to construct the Great Wall, which counted one twentieth of the total population in the country. 
 

4. Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of Lingqu Canal.

The Lingqu Canal in the Xing’an County near Guilin City of Guangxi, is another great project constructed with the order of Qin Shi Huang. It was said that Qin Shi Huang’s army suffered a setback when attacking the Baiyue Tribe in Guangxi. Blocked by mountains, the army did not have enough supply. Therefore, Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of Lingqu Canal to link the Xiang River and Li River so that the military supply could be transported in time by water route. Though only 36.4 kilometers (22.6 miles) long, Lingqu Canal still plays an important role in both flood control and irrigation nowadays.
 

5. Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum was guarded by the world-famous Terracotta Army.

Qin Shi Huang was a theist, and he believed he would enter the underworld after died. Therefore, he started the construction of his mausoleum no sooner than he ascended the throne. To enjoy the supreme power as he was alive, he ordered the workers to build the Terracotta Army to serve him in the afterlife and protect him and his mausoleum. The Terracotta Army was also a symbol to extol Qin Shi Huang’s great military achievements during his lifetime.

Read more: Why was the Terracotta Army built?When was the Terracotta Army Built?
 

6. Qin Shi Huang ascended to the throne at the age of only 13.

In 247 BC, Qin Shi Huang’s father died, after only three years of reign. The 13-year-old Qin Shi Huang succeeded him as the ruler of Qin State. As he was too young to handle all the state affairs, he had to rely on his mother Zhao Ji and the then prime minister Lv Buwei to govern the state. As he grew up day by day, he sensed the illicit affair between the two and found that Lv Buwei had a monopoly on military power, so he determined to punish them. Eight years later, Qin Shi Huang finally took over the control over the state. He soon took actions to weaken Lv Buwei’s power and forced him to commit suicide. His mother was also imprisoned. 
 

7. In fear of death, Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with quest for immortality.

This is a less-known but interesting Qin Shi Huang fact. Qin Shi Huang was always in fear of death, because he worried that he would not enjoy all his fortune and power after he died. Therefore, he had dying thirst for immortality, especially in his twilight years. Wanting to gain power and money, many warlocks presented themselves before Qin Shi Huang. Among them, the most famous one was called Xu Fu. He told Qin Shi Huang that there were three celestial mountains in the East Sea dwelled by immortals. So Qin Shi Huang sent three thousand virgin boys and girls together with Xu Fu to find the mountains by ship, wishing to ask for the elixir of life. Unfortunately, Xu Fu did not return. But the elixirs were presented to Qin Shi Huang continuously by warlock and some said that Qin Shi Huang died of eating too many so-called elixirs which were somehow poisonous.
 

8. Qin Shi Huang made six inspection tours all over the country.

During the ten years from 221 BC after Qin Shi Huang unified the country to 210BC when Qin Shi Huang died, he had made six inspection tours all over the country. The total journey which was basically by carriage, adds up to thousands of miles. As it was long and tiring, hardly did emperors in the later dynasties make such tours. Why did Qin Shi Huang cruise around the whole country? The motives were complicated. Some were military investigations for the purpose of national defense, some were personal activities driven by the desire of seeking immortality, and some were for the publicity of the imperial power. No matter what the purpose was, Qin Shi Huang’s love for travelling could not be ignored.
 

9. Qin Shi Huang was criticized by history scholars for his ruthless reign.

Though Qin Shi Huang spoke highly of himself and made many achievements, he was criticized by many history scholars from the later generations. In many essays, he was described as a ruthless ruler. During his reign, the law and regulations in Qin State were very harsh, stirring up resentment of the mass. The most notorious Qin Shi Huang fact should be that he commanded to burn all Confucian books and bury 460 scholars alive to suppress resentment. Besides, he built too many large-scale constructions at the same time, like the imperial palace, Great Wall, Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lingqu Canal and Qinzhidao Expressway. These greatly consumed the country’s financial revenue and man power, resulting in tremendous taxes on the ordinary people so that they lived a bitter life. No wonder that the Qin Empire was overturned soon after Qin Shi Huang died.
 

10. Qin Shi Huang was said to be an illegitimate son.

Whether Qin Shi Huang was born with the pure royal blood or he is an illegitimate son of his mother Zhao Ji and Lv Buwei has puzzled Chinese historians for more than 2,200 years. According to “Shih Chi”, one of the most convincing historical books in China, Lv Buwei is very likely to be the real father of Qin Shi Huang. Before Zhao Ji married Prince Ying Yiren, Qin Shi Huang’s father in name, she was a concubine of Lv Buwei. As she was stunningly beautiful, Ying Yiren fell in love with her at the first sight. Then he asked Lv Buwei to present Zhao Ji to him. However, he did not know Zhao Ji was already pregnant at that time. Only a few months after they married, Zhao Ji gave birth to Qin Shi Huang. However, most modern historians consider this Shi Huangdi fact ridiculous and was spread to defame Emperor Qin Shi Huang. 

- Last modified on Oct. 23, 2020 -
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